Thursday, April 14, 2011


André Laks, Michel Narcy (ed.), Néoplatonisme. Philosophie antique: problèmes, renaissances, usages num. 9. Villeneuve d'Ascq: Presses Universitaires du Septentrion, 2009. Pp. 232. ISBN 9782757401248. €22.00 (pb).

Reviewed by David Hernández de la Fuente, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (

Version at BMCR home site

[The reviewer apologizes for his late review.]

The academic journal Philosophie antique has just turned 10 years old (number 10 has already appeared under the title "Philosophie et mathématiques"). As the first French periodical publication specializing in ancient philosophy, under the direction of André Laks and Michel Narcy, Philosophie antique has become a reference forum mainly for French speaking scholars. However, the monographic layout of each number has allowed international reception since its first appearance in 2001, when the issue devoted to the "Figures de Socrate" was published.

This journal's subtitle "problèmes, renaissances, usages" makes clear a very special emphasis upon the history of the reception of ancient philosophy. No wonder, then, that Number 9 is devoted to Neo-Platonism, a long-awaited thematic issue. The volume contains a first group of four contributions on Plotinus – perhaps a thematic number on this philosopher would have made sense –, two chapters on other Neo-Platonists and a final section of Varia, plus the usual Comptes rendus and Bulletin bibliographique.

The first contribution, Riccardo Chiaradonna's "Plotin, la mémoire et la connaissance des intelligibles," discusses the complex role of memory in the Enneads IV 3 [27], 25 to IV 4 [28], 5 in the framework of Plotinus' theory of knowledge, with the intelligible God at the highest point. The issue of reminiscence and its relation to the conservation of sense data (which is "Plutôt laissée dans l'ombre" by Plotinus, as Chiaradonna points out in pp. 15-16) seems especially interesting not only for the understanding of the Soul as subject of memory but also for the very composition of the Soul.

Secondly, Valérie Cordonier explains the visual perception of sensible objects contained in another difficult passage of the Enneads (IV, 5 [29]), which is compared with other testimonies such as Plato, Aristotle and his school, Plutarch, the Elder Pliny and Galen. This paper succeeds in demonstrating that the so-called "disaffection" in Plotinus is the culmination of a long theoretical discussion.

The third essay, by Pierre Thillet, is a valuable philological contribution to the interpretation of Enn. V 3 [49], 7, 3 thanks to a reading of a recentior in the manuscript tradition of Plotinus, Parisinus graecus 2082 (15th century). A brief discussion of the meaning of the verb ἀπαρτᾶν demonstrates convincingly the benefits of the reading ἀπηρτημένας, which was already adopted by Theiler (1960).

In "Plotin critique de l'épistémologie stoïcienne" Isabelle Koch presents new perspectives on the well-known position of the Neo-Platonist against the Stoics because of their views on the soul and inconsistencies in relation to the theory of perception. After a brief discussion of the Stoic ideas on αἴσθησις, Koch shows the subtlety of Plotinus' attacks against Stoic corporalism with the example of both his criticism of the perceptive transmission (διάδοσις) and of the concept of knowledge as a reception of imprints.

The fourth contribution, by Gregory MacIsaac, deals with some of the most important concepts of Neo-Platonic political thought, namely, Proclus' adaptation of Plato's theory of the tripartite soul, the cardinal virtues and their application to the state in the Republic. For Proclus, as the author points out, "the study of political virtue is really the study of the soul" (p. 120), and he adapts the Platonic domination of the Soul by one or two of its parts (scil. the idea of "mixed lives"), to the metaphysical hierarchy of Neo-Platonic cosmology. MacIsaac finds evidence in Proclus of the same kind of approach to Platonic politics that Dominique O'Meara details in his essay on Platonic political thought in Late Antiquity,1 according to which the Neo-Platonists saw political virtue as a means to the perfection of the soul.

Angela Longo devotes her paper to the analysis of a famous Platonic passage of the Phaedrus (245c5-246a2) in defence of the immortality of the soul – i.e. soul as self-moving and principle of motion – in several philosophers not only of the Platonic School (Alcinoos and Hermias of Alexandria) but also of the Aristotelian tradition, such as Alexander of Aphrodisias. Longo argues that Later Platonists appropriate Aristotelian logical demonstration in order to strengthen their cases, in particular regarding the proofs of the immortality of the soul. And, vice versa, the work of Peripatetic scholars such as Alexander of Aphrodisias assisted the reformulation of some of Plato's arguments according to Aristotelian syllogistic demonstrations. This contribution successfully shows this interaction of the Platonic and Aristotelian schools in the syllogistic rewriting of this passage of the Phaedrus.

Béatrice Bakhouche opens the non-thematic section of this number with an analysis of the concept of φαντασία in Latin literature, from Cicero2 to Chalcidius, Augustine and Boethius. Regarding Chalcidius' Commentary to the Timaeus, Bakhouche displays a fine philological analysis of the word choice in several passages (157, 225-234), showing the importance of this late commentator in the "naturalization" (p. 186) of this concept in Latin.3

The final contribution of Alain Galonnier, "Cosmogenèse et chronocentrisme chez Chalcidius" pays attention to the way in which Chalcidius explains the birth of the cosmos, in what seems more a Neo-Platonic paraphrase of the Timaeus than a faithful translation. Chalcidius stresses the key role of the notions of time and eternal cause in the cosmogony of the Timaeus, combining a variety of sources. As the author sharply puts it "l'interprète fait naître le sentiment d'avoir eu besoin de trahir le traducteur" (p. 204).

To sum up, the thematic issue of Philosophie antique on Neo-Platonism does not disappoint. A consistent scholarship, a wide variety of key subjects of this Late Antique philosophical trend and a select group of quality contributions are displayed in this issue, in accordance with the editorial line of this journal, which has already become an important periodical in this field of study.


1.   Dominic O'Meara, Platonopolis. Platonic Political Philosophy in Late Antiquity (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003). See review BMCR 2004.01.08,
2.   Following the fundamental works of Carlos Lévy. See, e.g., Carlos Lévy, Cicero Academicus: Recherches sur les Académiques et sur la philosophie cicéronienne (Rome: École française de Rome, 1992).
3.   A recent paper of Aglae Pizzone under the title "Late Antique φαντασία and the Greek Fathers: A Survey" deals precisely with the "christianization" of φαντασία and can be a useful addendum to this discussion on Chalcidius, Augustine and Boethius, given its brief history of this concept in Late Antiquity. It is found in the collective volume under my coordination entitled New Perspectives on Late Antiquity (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2011) pp. 416-432.

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